Saturday, December 8, 2007

Victims of conscience - The News _ Editorial Dec 6

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The serving of notices to the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) by police in Lahore on Tuesday, informing the administration that at least four faculty members and two students were wanted for questioning regarding charges against them under regulations against assembly and for disturbing public order, indicates that the authorities are unwilling to abandon their ruthless crushing of dissent. The police tactics are part of an obvious effort to intimidate the staff and students at LUMS who have been engaged in civil society's protests against emergency rule and the measures taken under it, since November 3.Barricades were erected on Tuesday outside the university gates to prevent students joining the daily protest for civil liberties held outside the Lahore Press Club. Till now, different groups of students had been taking part in the hunger strike camp set up by journalists and the rallies organized there. A senior police official is also reported to have visited the LUMS campus, and warned people present not to take part in any further protest action, as there were already FIRs against them. The police action created considerable panic on campus – as indeed, it was intended to do. Rumours, which later proved unfounded, of arrests from the campus, added to this. It is obvious that the charges, which include that of wall-chalking, levelled against senior faculty members and students are absurd. It has also been apparent that the involvement of students, not only from LUMS but also other educational institutions, against the curtailment of basic liberties, have taken police by surprise, and fears that the movement could quickly widen have led to the latest acts of harassment.

The fact is that the students, and indeed the professors at LUMS, deserve applause for standing up in favour of civil society and against dictatorship and imposition of emergency rule in the country. That they are now being punished for their stance reflects the true face of authority today in Pakistan. But the fact also is that the protests that have been flickering across civil society, with vigils outside the homes of judges, at the offices of banned television channels and at other places will not easily die away. The 'renaming' of a busy city square along Lahore's Mall Road after deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry by students and lawyers on Dec 4 is just one example of the innovative, and colourful, dimensions assumed by this unusual protest movement. Cowardly actions, such as those taken by police at LUMS, will not be able to easily crush the ongoing campaign. Indeed, the police presence outside the university best depicts the situation of this tussle between state and a peaceful civil society, which has so far refused to be cowed down by the tactics used against it. And, the involvement of students in this effort highlights the fact that Pakistan is fortunate to have young citizens who care deeply enough about their country to stand up for the rights and freedoms of its citizens, even in the face of heavy-handed state repression.

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